The turquoise blush of the Pacific sparkled in the afternoon sun as my wife and I eased our sea kayaks onto a beach of white, talcum-powder sand. A jumble of bleached driftwood fringed the lush coastal rainforest, home to a pair of bald eagles cruising the cloudless sky.
Kayaking can be pure bliss. When the weather is good, I can think of no place I would rather be than in my sea kayak, cruising the scattered maze of channels, bays, and islands off Canada’s West Coast.
Whitewater kayaking is usually done on rivers. It involves negotiating rapids ranging from easy riffles to complex and challenging “boulder gardens” with large, standing waves. River kayaks are small and compact, and are thus not suitable for multi-day trips that require paddlers to pack camping equipment and other supplies in their holds.
Sea kayaking is the preferred choice for paddlers on oceans and large lakes. Unlike river kayaks, sea kayaks have a keel and a rudder controlled by foot pedals, which offers greater stability and speed on the open water. Most sea kayaks have storage hatches for camping equipment, food, and water, which makes them suitable for longer exploratory trips.
If you have never kayaked, I strongly advise an introductory course to learn about equipment, basic kayaking strokes, as well as safety and awareness on the water. More advanced courses teach you about how to read river rapids and how to right yourself after a tip. Advanced sea kayaking skills include knowing about tides and currents, navigation with map and compass, and deep-water rescue.
Kayaking is Good for You
The forward paddle stroke is a low-impact, full-range motion that benefits your entire body. A good stroke starts at the feet and resonates up through the legs, abdomen, and torso to the paddle shaft. You will tone upper-body muscles, increase your flexibility, and improve circulation, which benefits your joints by bringing them nutrients.
According to kayak fitness experts Briana and Robert Finlay, paddlers can expect to do about 300 paddle strokes per kilometre. A brisk pace of 8 km/hour burns around 400 calories, which means several hours of kayaking is a great way to lose weight!
Not surprisingly, there are also many psychological benefits to kayaking. Can you think of a more blissful way to spend a sunny afternoon than gliding across silky smooth water under your own power? You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to enjoy kayaking.
Safety starts with the right equipment and knowing how to use it.
Sea kayakers are required by the Canadian Coast Guard to wear PFDs (lifejackets) while paddling. It’s also mandatory for paddlers to carry whistles, a buoyant rope and throw bag, a bailing device such as a small pump, and a spare paddle. If you plan to kayak at night (an hour before sunset to an hour after sunrise), you will also need a white light that is visible up to 300 metres away.
Whitewater paddlers should always wear a helmet, and should master the “Eskimo roll” before attempting to run rapids. The roll utilizes a maneuver called the “hip flick” that allows upside-down kayakers to quickly right themselves after tipping over. For more information about the technical aspects of whitewater kayaking, visit performancevideo.com.
Common sense should prevail while deciding when and where to paddle. Avoid kayaking during inclement weather, but if you have to, be aware that hypothermia is a real danger. Early symptoms of hypothermia include bouts of shivering and grogginess. Violent shivering, shallow breathing, and a slow, weak pulse indicate a more advanced stage that should be treated immediately. For information on hypothermia prevention, recognition, and treatment, visit hypothermia.org.
Where to Kayak
Canada has an embarrassment of paddling riches, which includes thousands of lakes and rivers, not to mention the longest coastline of any nation in the world (over 240,000 km/149,000 mi long). The options for kayaking in Canada are practically limitless. Most major cities also have paddling clubs of one form or another, which allow you to meet other paddlers. Search the Internet or ask at your local outdoor equipment retailer. Most importantly, paddle at your own pace–and have fun!